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By Jennifer Yos

LANSING, Ill. (May 27, 2022) – Summer days are here at last and Lansing bicycle riders are fortunate to have two separate trail options for their riding enjoyment — The Pennsy Greenway Rail Trail and the Thorn Creek Trail. Soon, the Village hopes to add another, as Lansing is in Phase I of an engineering study to vet a route that would safely link these two trails.

Summer seems to be the most popular season for trail activity, but bicycle enthusiasts — as well as hikers, skaters, cross-country skiers, and dog-walkers — have year-round access to both trails.

The Pennsy Greenway Rail Trail

The Pennsy Greenway (marked in red) extends to Calumet City at its northern end and to Schererville, IN, at its southern end. (Photo: Screenshot of Pennsy Greenway map at www.traillink.com)

Overview

The Pennsy Greenway is a 12.5 mile asphalt trail extending north/south-east on the old Penn Central Railway. It diagonally traverses the Village of Lansing, touching Calumet City to the north and Munster, IN, to the southeast. The trail continues many miles beyond Lansing in both directions, going as far north as Chicago (through a link with the Burnham Greenway Trail), and as far southeast as Rohrman Park in Schererville, IN.

Scenery and destinations

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Pennsy Greenway links with the Burnham Greenway, making it possible to bicycle to Chicago and Maywood via a system of trails called The Grand Illinois Trail. (Photo: Screenshot of Lansing-to-Maywood map from The Grand Illinois Trail User Guide Third Edition 2015 at www.rideillinois.org)

On the north end of the trail, natural growth and foliage of prairie flowers, reeds, brambles, and trees provide natural beauty and occasional shade from the summer sun. The north end of the trail connects with the Burnham Greenway, a trail that crosses the Little Calumet River, making it possible to ride from Lansing to specific destinations in Calumet City like the Green Lake Family Aquatic Center or Holy Cross Cemetery. The Burnham Greenway — like the Pennsy Greenway Trail — is part of the Grand Illinois Trail System, which creates a gateway to additional destinations such as downtown Chicago, Oak Park, and Maywood.

Heading diagonally south-eastwardly from 175th Street, the trail passes along residential backyards and into downtown Lansing. Bicycle stands are available at the Fox Pointe concert venue for riders who would like to rest, find refreshments, and shop in downtown Lansing, or attend one of the summer concerts at Fox Pointe. Conveniently, a new bicycle shop — Greenway Bikehouse — has opened across from Fox Pointe on the corner of Henry and Lake St.

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The Pennsy Greenway Trail heading east past the Illinois/Indiana state line into Munster, IN. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)
The Monon Trail Head fountain on Ridge Road in Munster, IN, provides a pleasant turn-around point back to the Pennsy Greenway Trail towards Lansing. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

Continuing east of Wentworth Avenue, the trail passes behind the grounds of the former Lansing Sportsman’s Club and continues onward into Munster, IN. At Fisher Street in Munster, riders have a couple of options: they can continue eastward on the Pennsy Greenway trail to Calumet Avenue and on to Centennial Park in Munster or even beyond, all the way to Rohrman Park in Schererville, IN, or they can turn onto the 4.4 mile Monon Trail (Lake County) that heads north from Fisher Street and Manor Avenue into downtown Munster on Ridge Road and further on into Hammond, IN. The Monon Trail Head Fountain on Ridge Road in Munster offers a pleasant resting spot or turn-around point for returning to Lansing. It also offers a public drinking fountain.

Accessibility and safety considerations

Because the Pennsy Greenway intersects Lansing, it crosses many Lansing streets, some with safer access to the trail than others with regards to traffic. On the north end of Lansing, the trail crosses 170th Street, just west of the fire and police departments, and further south the trail crosses Bernice Road, just west of Railroad Ave. Higher-speed traffic on both these roads necessitates extra caution when either accessing the trail or crossing on the trail. Potts Park, at 172nd Street and Oakwood Avenue, provides a quieter access to the trail, which passes along the park’s western edge.

From Bernice Road, the trail continues south under the viaduct on Bikeway Avenue and crosses 175th Street. Extra caution is advised while riding along and across these roads due to poor visibility under the viaduct and busy traffic along 175th Street. The trail continues in a southeast diagonal direction, crossing Chicago Avenue, 178th Street, and Burnham Avenue, respectively. Each of these three street crossings offers relatively easy access to the trail, but extra caution is advised crossing busy Burnham Avenue.

The trail continues southeast to Winterhoff Park on Roy Street and then through the Fox Pointe concert venue on Randolph Street — if the gates are open. When the gates are closed, bicyclists must ride through the parking area outside the venue to reach Henry Street on the east side. The trail continues south to Ridge Road, which provides a pedestrian-crossing traffic light. With plentiful parking in downtown Lansing, Ridge Road is a good choice for accessing the trail when arriving by car.

The trail picks up again at Lansing’s Clock Tower, passing the American Legion Post 697 and continuing eastward to the traffic-heavy Wentworth Avenue. At Wentworth, there is a marked pedestrian crosswalk, but no traffic light, which requires extra caution while crossing. Beyond Wentworth, the trail continues eastward across the Indiana border.

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The Wentworth Avenue crossing of the Pennsy Greenway does not have a stoplight, so bikers must be careful. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Thorn Creek Trail

Thorn Creek Trail (marked in red) extends to Lansing Woods at its northern end and to Sauk Trail Lake in South Chicago Heights at its southern end. (Screenshot of Thorn Creek Trail at www.fpdcc.com )

Overview

The Thorn Creek Trail System has approximately 30 miles of paved and unpaved trails that connect several forest preserves in Lansing, Glenwood, and Chicago Heights.

Scenery and destinations

The Thorn Creek Trail’s northernmost point in Lansing begins at the entrance to the Lansing Woods on 186th Street. The trail winds southward through the Lansing Woods, running roughly parallel to the woods’ North Creek, a tributary of Thorn Creek.

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Bike trail entrance to North Meadow from Torrence Avenue. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

The trail crosses Torrence Avenue and continues westward through North Creek Meadow. The ride through the Lansing Woods and North Creek Meadow offers many sights and sounds of nature — butterflies flitting and dancing amidst prairie flowers, birds chirping, frogs croaking loudly in wetland areas, and deer poised in alert stance just within the forest’s edge.

The trail continues westward to Stoney Island Avenue and crosses IL Route 394 on the overpass bridge; however, this summer the bridge will be closed due to construction and will not reopen until early September. Beyond the overpass, the trail continues along Glenwood-Lansing Road, just south of Jurgensen Woods. It then doglegs north along N. Cottage Grove Ave. and into Sweet Woods in Glenwood.

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Bike trail through North Meadow (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

The trail through Sweet Woods is mostly shady as it winds along Thorn Creek. There are several off-trail paths along the way for those who enjoy all-terrain bicycling. The trail crosses a steep train trestle before it exits the woods at N. Main Street in Glenwood.

The trail then heads south through a series of forest preserves in Glenwood and Chicago Heights. At its southernmost point, it loops around Sauk Trail Lake, and heads back north along the same trail through Glenwood and back to Lansing.

The bike trail crosses a steep train trestle in Glenwood’s Sweet Woods. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

Departing from the Lansing Woods and traveling to the Glenwood Sauk Trail Lake loop and back is about 27 miles of biking.

Accessibility and safety considerations

The Sweet Woods is a good place to park and ride for a shorter distance, or to avoid the bridge that’s currently under construction at Route 394. (Photo: Jennifer Yos)

The Thorn Creek Trail can be easily accessed from the Lansing Woods parking lot on 186th Street east of Torrence Avenue, or from the North Creek Meadow parking lot on Glenwood Lansing Road, just west of Torrence Avenue. The North Creek Meadow parking lot also has the amenity of a clean public restroom.

On the Lansing and Glenwood segments of the trail, bicyclists must cross three busy avenues that run north/south: Torrence, Stoney Island, and Cottage Grove. Pedestrian traffic lights assist bicyclists across both Torrence Avenue and Stoney Island Avenue at their Glenwood-Lansing Road intersections, but the crossing over Cottage Grove Avenue into Sweet Woods has no traffic light, and bicyclists need to be cautious of oncoming traffic.

Some bicyclists choose to cross Torrence Avenue just north of the Glenwood-Lansing intersection, but this is a riskier undertaking as there is no traffic light for the heavy traffic whizzing by at high speeds.

Since the bridge that crosses IL Route 394 will be under construction until early September of this year, it will be difficult for riders to continue the trail safely past Stoney Island Avenue. The detour that is suggested for vehicles along Stoney Island Avenue is not bicycle-friendly, leaving virtually no room to the right of the road. The best way to reach the trail beyond Route 394 is by car. Sweet Woods has a parking lot at its N. Cottage Grove entrance.

Special thanks and credit go to the following sources that provided maps and information for this article:

  • TrailLink (traillink.com)
  • The Forest Preserves of County (fpdcc.com)
  • The Grand Illinois Trail User Guide Third Edition 2015 (rideillinois.org in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources)
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Jennifer Yos grew up on Walter Street in Lansing with nine siblings. She attended St. Ann’s School and T.F. South, and she earned a BA in the Teaching of English from the University of Illinois, Chicago, and a MS in Education: Curriculum and Instruction from the University of St. Francis, Joliet. For 34 years she taught English, as well as Creative Writing and Drama, at Lincoln-Way High School. She dabbled in freelance journalism for the Joliet Herald News Living section. Now retired, Jennifer appreciates the opportunity to write for The Lansing Journal and is uplifted by the variety of positive people she has already met who are making a difference in Lansing.